Even just as a threat, idea to drop Monza continues Italy’s recent F1 plight

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Yes, the FIA is based in France, and the origins of Formula One date to the first World Championship Grand Prix in England, but Italy has been as much a part of the fabric of Formula One as any other country in its 60-plus year history.

And quite honestly, I’m getting a bit sick of it getting treated like a redheaded stepchild instead of the valued country that has brought so much to F1’s lore.

News this morning that Bernie Ecclestone is planning to drop Monza from the F1 calendar after 2016 – hell, even the thought of him dropping Monza from the calendar – just makes my blood boil.

It’s akin to Bud Selig signing off his tenure as Major League Baseball Commissioner and saying MLB should drop Wrigley Field and/or Fenway Park in pursuit of some podunk new stadium in North Dakota or something. Or Roger Goodell lowering the boom on Lambeau Field and saying the National Football League is relocating the Green Bay Packers to Abu Dhabi, in the name of international expansion.

There’s four tracks that stand out more than any other on the modern-day calendar as historic venues: Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. Nurburgring, Montreal and Suzuka also are favorites, but they’re not staples going back to the beginning in 1950.

Monza has been the scene of so much fever – something that can’t be measured by dollars or commercial value.

Does Niki Lauda’s incredible comeback after his near-death accident at the Nurburgring in 1976 carry the same lore if it wasn’t on Ferrari’s home soil? Or does it even happen if Monza didn’t provide the perfect return? I doubt it.

Does the 1-2 for Ferrari in the 1988 Italian Grand Prix rank as one of the all-time great victories for the brand since it broke McLaren’s perfect season if it occurs at Estoril or Jerez, for instance? Hardly.

Does Michael Schumacher’s first Monza win for Ferrari in 1996 inspire the passion of the tifosi to think that after nearly 20 years in the doldrums, they actually were on the verge of an incredible run if it happened elsewhere? Again, unlikely.

These are but three iconic moments from this iconic circuit – a temple of speed where the level of fans’ volume matches the level of the cars (this year, they might exceed it for all we know).

The flood of fans onto the circuit post-race is one of the remaining links to a bygone era, and so refreshing to watch.

The loss of Monza – however presumptive – would be yet another blow to Italy’s current standing in modern day Formula One.

We’d basically be down to Ferrari and Scuderia Toro Rosso, and with no disrespect to STR, it’s hard to feel the same passion about them as a brand since they’re essentially the Red Bull junior team that its perennial underdog, Faenza-based predecessor, Minardi, brought about for 20+ years.

We haven’t had an Italian driver on the grid since 2011. Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella were both Grand Prix winners, but never able to reach stratospheric heights in the sport.

We’ve lost an entire generation of potential Italian F1 stars – Giorgio Pantano, Luca Filippi and likely Davide Valsecchi, the Lotus reserve passed over last fall – who didn’t have the budget or the timing needed to enter or stay in Formula One. Pantano’s 2004 season with Jordan didn’t accurately reflect his ability level; Filippi and Valsecchi, both GP2 stars, never got the chance.

Now, the mere thought of losing this circuit – one which still stirs the soul whenever the F1 fraternity heads there – just seems like another idea where potential dollars are trumping passion and history.

You can’t put a price tag on that.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994